For many women in Texas, abortions are getting harder to obtain.
The cost of the procedure is increasing, and so are the distances people have to travel to get one.
For some, that’s making it almost impossible to get an abortion, but there are groups here in Austin working to transport women to clinics far from home and help them cover the costs.
Andie Gersh is sitting on a large floral couch in the middle of her living room. Her cell phone is in front of her on a coffee table just in case she gets a call. Gersh says this is pretty much what a day working for the Bridge Collective is like.
“We are at my home, my insane dogs are barking in the backyard, and this is mostly where I do my work. All of our meetings happen in houses, so this is a common meeting space for us,” she says.
The Bridge Collective is small group here in Austin that helps women in Texas travel to get an abortion. In the wake of a 2013 law that put stricter regulations on abortions, more than half of the state’s clinics closed, the brunt of which were in rural areas. So some Texans are traveling longer distances to get an abortion, and advocates like Gersh are acting as a sort of travel agent for them.
“Our collective has seven people in it, which is kind of perfect, because we each have a day on the hotline,” Gersh says. “So, we just answer the calls that come in. The person will give their information about what day their procedure is, where they live, do they need transportation from the procedure home or, you know, a full round trip.”
That information, Gersh says, gets dispatched to a group of volunteer drivers. She says they have roughly 20 folks who pitch in. It’s kind of like calling an Uber, except it’s free, and everyone who does this work is an advocate.
“That was what we needed to focus on...as activists in the reproductive justice movement...working on helping people get access to clinics, because people who live in Killeen are nowhere near a clinic,” she says. “And that area is kind of a hot spot for people who are midway between Dallas and Austin. They are the ones that call us the most frequently.”
The burden on a group like this has been steadily growing. In Texas, long distances are an expensive problem because women are required by law to make multiple visits to a clinic before they actually get an abortion.
“We had one patient in 2013 that we drove a sum total of like seven or eight hundred miles, just to do all of the trips,” Gersh says.
Additionally, new laws have made the procedure itself more expensive, which is something another group here in Austin has been taking on.
At a small coffee shop not far from Gersh’s house, Amanda Williams says she’s concerned people are getting priced out.
“It’s become a very expensive ordeal, and it just shouldn’t be that way,” she says.
Williams works with the Lilith Fund. They give small grants to people who need an abortion who can’t afford it. With rising costs, Williams says that’s becoming tougher, too.
“We are able to fund about a third of those who call us. So, the need again is growing,” Williams says. “There is this premise that when we are getting rid of clinics, we are getting rid of the need for abortion – that’s just never going to be the case.”
Gersh says access to abortion continues to be a moving target here in Texas. She says they deal with each new obstacle as they come up, but it doesn’t feel like nearly enough.
“Regardless, we can’t stop doing what we are doing, even with that knowledge that this isn’t going to increase access to abortion in a large-scale way. But the fact is that the phone keeps ringing,” Gersh says.
For some, the hurdles have become impossible to clear. Gersh, whose day job is working as a nurse at a pediatric ICU, says she’s concerned women are seeking abortions without medical assistance. A study last year found a large number of women tried to self-induce abortions using home remedies and medication.
“There is nothing that we can do. There is nothing that we can do to help people to prevent that,” she says. “Maybe that’s another direction we would go, doing outreach about how unsafe certain methods are.”
With that, Gersh shrugs. She says her group just got more drivers to volunteer, which means that they’ll be able to serve more women soon.